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Fantasy Football: 2013 PPR Tight End Tiers and Projections

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham
New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham

November 5, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) carries for a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles during third quarter of their game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

I’m just going to be up front and honest with you. I hate tight ends in fantasy football. Just like some wish for the placekickers banishment from participating in our fake football game, I wish the same for the Tight End. When I say this, I mean the position, not the players. There are plenty of tight ends I love to watch play, and a few I even want on my pretend team of gambling goodness. I just want the standard tight end spot to be merged in with the wide receiver position for our game, because let’s not kid ourselves; those are the only guys we want near our teams anyways.

Now that I have gotten that off of my chest, let’s pull out the fantasy weather machine and forecast what these players could be bringing to the table for the 2013 season.

Read more about Sports Jerks Network fantasy football rankings…

QB Tiers / Projections

PPR Running Back Tiers/Projections

PPR Wide Receiver Tiers/Projections

C.D. Carter’s Standard Scoring Tiers

*Accumulative points are not the basis of these rankings. Week to week consistency combined with uncertainty and anticipation of changes, for better or worse, were applied to the order of the tiers. Too often at this time of the summer, we are guilty of looking forward and back at the upcoming season and prior season’s stats in their entirety.

Tier 1 

PLAYER

BYE

REC

YDS

TD

PPR PTS

Jimmy Graham

NO

7

101

1192

10

280.2

Rob Gronkowski

NE

10

53

738

10

186.8

*Gronkowski projection based on 10 games played

With all of the uncertainty surrounding Gronkowski’s availability for the start of the regular season, Graham has catapulted himself as one of the hottest commodities this offseason.  Last season, he battled a nagging wrist injury as well as a bum ankle. The wrist injury played a part in him leading all tight ends in dropped passes (15) on 100 catchable targets. In the two seasons prior, he dropped only nine of 138 catchable balls in his direction. With the return of Sean Payton to the Saint’s sidelines, Graham should return to 2011 form.

Gronkowski would surely be tops on this list if we knew that he was playing week one. Over the past three seasons, Gronk averages 15.9 points per game to Graham’s 13.8. In the past two years, he’s played in four fewer games than Graham and has only 2.3 fewer total points. In the past two seasons, Gronk averages 19.6 PPR points per contest, second to only Calvin Johnson (21.9 PPG) out of all non QB/RB’s. The cherry on top of it all, one of every five catches over his career has gone for a touchdown. On a per game basis, as good as Graham is, he’s not even in Gronk’s weight class. You’ve been awarded a golden opportunity to take him, don’t let it pass you by.

Tier 2 

PLAYER

BYE

REC

YDS

TD

PPR PTS

Jason Witten

DAL

11

88

1038

6

227.8

Tony Gonzalez

ATL

6

79

798

7

200.8

Few players are as consistent as Witten has been. Over the past five seasons, there have only been eight 1,000 yard receiving seasons from tight ends. Witten is the only player to have multiple seasons, notching three of those eight. In the other two years, he had 942 and 952 yards, and since 2007, he has averaged 5.8 receptions per game.  The problem is that Dallas is just as consistent in providing Witten limited scoring opportunities. Over the past ten seasons, Witten has averaged only 4.3 targets per season inside of the opponents’ 10-yard line, with five seasons of three or fewer chances.

Gonzalez is currently the benchmark for Hall of Fame tight ends. Since 2000, he has finished no lower than sixth in PPR scoring out of all tight ends (let that truly sink in for a moment). In those 13 seasons, he’s either paced the position or finished second eight times.  In his tenure with Atlanta, he’s averaged a 81/820/7 line on 116 targets.

Tier 3 

PLAYER

BYE

REC

YDS

TD

PPR PTS

Vernon Davis

SF

9

69

870

7

198

Greg Olsen

CAR

4

70

832

6

189.2

 In the three seasons prior to 2012, Davis averaged 67/890/8 per year on 106 targets. He caught 55 plus balls and tallied two years over 900 receiving yards on his way to two silver medal seasons at the tight end position. Last season he posted his lowest catch (41)  yardage (548) and target (61) totals since 2008, which was the same season as the infamous Mike Singletary-Davis meltdown.  Last season didn’t come with any sideline altercations, but it was just as miserable for Davis owners in fake football.  He had one or fewer catches in seven of Colin Kaepernick’s ten starts (including the postseason) , with five games of 15 yards or fewer receiving. With the injury to Michael Crabtree, expect his usage to rise, but Davis has spurned owners excitement before.

Olsen’s first season with the Panthers (45/540/5) looked exactly like his final season in Chicago (41/404/5). But in year two with QB Cam Newton, he posted a career high in receptions (69) and yards (843) to go with five touchdowns. When Newton caught fire near the second half of the season, and was fake footballs number one signal caller, it was in finding Olsen that attributed to that take off.  In Carolina’s final nine games, Olsen posted a 40/496/4 line (12.6 PPR PPG) compared to Steve Smith’s 38/585/4 line (13.3 PPG).  Carolina did little to upgrade the receiver position this offseason, so expect Olsen to be right on Smith’s heels again in 2013 if Newton carries over his late season success.

Tier 4

PLAYER

TEAM

BYE

REC

YDS

TD

PPR PTS

Jermichael Finley

GB

4

62

781

6

176.1

Owen Daniels

HST

8

64

768

5

170.8

Jordan Cameron

CLV

10

63

745

6

173.5

Jared Cook

SL

11

58

760

5

164

If I am drafting any Tight End after the first three tiers in a 12 team league, I have accepted the fact that I will be streaming the position (see opening paragraph). Due to the blemishes and inconsistencies of the players going forward, coupled with their average low cost, allows for you to interchange these remaining faces for a matchup play at relatively no loss. If you need further convincing, see what the Streamweaver himself has to say about tight end position.

The 61 receptions posted by Finley in 2012 set a new career high. Really. In what was considered a bust of a season, he also caught 70% of his targets. His overall numbers came out lacking, but Finley had a bizarrely segmented season. In games 1-4, he averaged 5.7 catches for 47 yards per game. Then he posted seven consecutive weeks of three or fewer grabs, averaging just 2.2 receptions for 29 yards through those games. As bad as that was, he finished the final five weeks strong, averaging 5.2 for 56. So who is the real Jermichael Finley?

The major problem was the fact that his touchdown total dropped for eight to two from 2011, or he could’ve at least disguised his season like Kyle Rudolph did. In large part that was due to his lack of involvement inside the opposition’s twenty. His red zone targets fell from 17 in each 2009 and 2011 (in 2010 he suffered a season ending injury) to only 11 in 2012. In perspective, Greg Jennings had 10 red zone targets and missed eight weeks. He spurned so many owners in a Mathews-esque like fashion last season, that he can be had for free (ADP 107 overall, TE10). And, oh yeah, he’s connected to the best quartberback in the game.

Daniels is a solid, but boring option. In 2012 he scored the most touchdowns (6) of his career while averaging over four catches per game for the first time since 2009. He also had the lowest yards per catch of his career (11.5) and over the final six weeks never topped four catches, 43 yards in any game to go with one score.

Cameron is a degenerate delight coming into 2013. He gets paired up with the tight end maestro, Rob Chudzinksi and will have the first two weeks without Josh Gordon on the field to become a reliable blanket for Brandon Weeden.

In the same ilk of Finley, Cook was a colossal disappointment for owners last season. He signed a $35 million ($19 million) deal in the offseason to help the Rams fill the void in the slot left from the departure of Danny Amendola. No tight end ran a higher percentage of routes (76.8%) from the slot last season and 29% of Sam Bradford’s attempts last season were thrown to the slot. While his ceiling may not be as high as many hope, Cooks should provide useful spot play in St. Louis.

Tier 5

PLAYER

TEAM

BYE

REC

YDS

TD

PPR PTS

Martellus Bennett

CHI

8

55

684

5

153.4

Brandon Pettigrew

DET

9

62

651

4

151.1

Ed Dickson

BLT

8

56

644

5

150.4

Kyle Rudolph

MIN

5

62

607

6

158.7

While Pettigrew may not be that good of a real football player (28 drops over the past three seasons), he is a volume producer that can’t be ignored like he currently is. He’s currently being drafted as TE16 (151 overall). That’s awfully low for a guy who plays for the most pass happy offense in the league and for one that’s been targeted over 100 times in each of the past three years.

Bennett is coming off of a career season in which his 55 catches for 626 yards and five scores were better than is previous two seasons combined. Unfortunately, number one tight ends with Jay Cutler have averaged only 33 catches for 440 yards per season. Even worse, as pass happy as Marc Trestman is, his number one tight ends have averaged only 34 catches for 334 yards per season. In their 15 combined seasons as QB and coordinator, Cutler and Trestman have had only two tight ends top 50 receptions (’09 Olsen and ’95 Brent Jones) and only two (’09 Olsen and ’08 Scheffler) top 600 yards.

With a fractured hip forcing Dennis Pitta to miss the entire the season, Ed Dickson finds himself in a favorable situation. The Ravens were already thin with pass catching options and Pitta was expected to see a lot of work. Dickson isn’t bad either. In 2011 he started all 16 games and finished with a 54/528/5 line. He lost playing time to Pitta because he wasn’t nearly as effective in the slot. He also has five receptions on throws over 20 yards in his career, so a big play or two can be expected as well as many red zone looks.

If you didn’t own Rudolph in 2012, then you don’t know how unstartable nine touchdowns (T-2 with Graham among TE) were. Those TD’s completely masked how below average he was. His 9.3 yard sper catch ranked 31st out of all TE that played 50 percent of their teams’ snaps. His 493 yards were good for 22nd best, while his 61.6% catch rate was 31st .Just to throw more fuel on the dumpster fire, he had 11 games of fewer than 40 yards, eight of fewer than 25, nine games of three or fewer catches and three weeks scoring complete goose eggs.

Tier 6 

PLAYER

BYE

REC

YDS

TD

PPR PTS

Dwayne Allen

IND

8

54

613

5

145.3

Brandon Myers

NYG

9

53

536

5

136.6

Antonio Gates

SD

8

45

549

6

135.9

Heath Miller

PIT

5

45

481

5

123.1

Prior to the season, the entire predraft buzz for a rookie tight end in Indy was surrounding Coby Fleener. That was an afterthought quickly, as Allen asserted himself as the main TE (playing 925 snaps to Fleeners’ 461) as his dominance in the ground game was too valuable. Allen was ranked as the second best blocking tight end (behind Delanie Walker) by Pro Football Focus last season. That playing time led to his usefulness in the passing game as he pulled in 45 catches for 521 yards.

Myers 78.2% catch rate in ‘12 led all tight ends that seen over 50 targets. Unfortunately, 51% of his points (36/391/3) came in the fourth quarter of games, making a lot of those targets extremely easy to be completed when the defense was playing to give away clock. The Giants don’t completely ignore the tight end, but by playing with a vastly superior receiving corps on a better team hurts his season long stock.

The dominant ways of Gates being a premier tight end are dead. Despite notching his ninth consecutive season with seven or more touchdowns, his receptions and yards per game have decreased over the past three years. His 3.3 catches per contest were his lowest total since his rookie season in 2003 (all while playing for a team that trailed a lot). The fact is, he just can’t move anymore. In 2010, he averaged 6.5 yards after the catch, that number fell to 4.4 in ’11 and all the way to grandparent-like  3.0 yards of YAC in 2012.

Miller is name to keep tabs on, he finished as TE4 last season and could likely begin the season on the six game PUP list. While you’re unlikely to burn a roster spot waiting for a tight end to return, Miller could provide excellent per game stats when finally active. Only AJ Green (16) had more targets inside the 10 yard line than Miller’s 14. On a team filled with undersized red zone receiving options, he should assume the same role.

Tier 7 

PLAYER

TEAM

BYE

REC

YDS

TD

PPR PTS

Fred Davis

WAS

5

49

622

4

135.2

Zac Sudfeld

NE

10

36

450

4

105

Julius Thomas

DEN

9

43

538

4

120.8

Zach Miller

SEA

12

46

570

5

133

Coby Fleener

IND

8

47

588

4

129.8

Jermaine Gresham

CIN

12

53

556

4

132.6

Tyler Eifert

CIN

12

48

594

4

131.4

Rob Housler

ARZ

9

51

516

4

126.6

Marcedes Lewis

JAX

9

43

512

4

118.2

Anthony Fasano

KC

10

37

443

5

111.3

Scott Chandler

BUF

12

41

444

4

109.4

Delanie Walker

TEN

8

40

558

2

107.8

Tony Scheffler

DET

9

38

511

3

107.1

James Casey

PHI

12

41

476

3

106.6

David Ausberry

OAK

7

36

547

2

102.7

Sudfeld is kind of an arbitrary play on Gronk while he is out. If you are planning on streaming the position, he’s a early season target. Gresham led all NFL tight ends in yards after catch (424 yards) last season. Walker led all tight ends in receptions (8) on throws  over 20 yards in the air, and as previously stated, is a massive blocking upgrade over Cook. He could see the field a lot in 2013. The arrival of Wes Welker likely saps much of the remaining Denver tight end value, but Thomas is an athletic mismatch that could surprise. Lewis has two 50 plus catch seasons out of the past three to go with 14 scores over the same time.

*Stats used were provided from ProFootballFocus, Pro-Football-Reference, NFLData.com, NFL.com, ESPN

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